23 January 2023

Questioning of officers in Ben Aulich police sting can be dealt with at trial, court rules

| Albert McKnight
Man in suit walking to court

Ben Aulich approaches the Canberra court to hear the outcome of his applications on Monday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

All the recent legal applications by top Canberra lawyer Ben Aulich and his co-defendant to investigate the police sting against them have been dismissed.

Mr Aulich and Michael Anthony Papandrea had both applied to cross-examine several police officers involved in the sting at an upcoming committal hearing, but Magistrate Michael Crompton found the cross-examination sought could be adequately dealt with at trial.

He said it was unlikely such cross-examination would lead to the discharge of the defendants, nor would it result in the trial being significantly shortened or altered.

It has been alleged that Mr Aulich and Mr Papandrea, an accountant, were involved in a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of selling cigarettes, which were to be illegally imported into the country by an undercover police officer, through a supermarket.

The amount expected to be made from this alleged enterprise was about $100,000 a month, or $1.2 million a year.

When Magistrate Crompton handed down his decision in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday (23 January), the court heard covert recordings from 2020 had allegedly captured Mr Aulich speaking to an undercover officer about the unlawful seizure of $100,000 and he provided advice on a potential criminal charge.

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Mr Aulich is alleged to have advised the undercover officer to “lay low” and asked him to think about a “plausible explanation” for the money to tell police.

As part of the recent applications, the court heard that Mr Aulich’s lawyers had claimed a forensic analysis of his documents would have shown he had no unexplained wealth.

It was argued he had been “targetted” in a major controlled operation (MCO) in circumstances where authorities couldn’t be satisfied he was likely to deal with the proceeds of crime.

Another issue was how Mr Aulich’s team had wanted to explore the legality of the covert recordings from 2020 and question why an application for a surveillance device had not been made earlier.

Michael Anthony Papandrea approaches court on Monday with his lawyer, Rachel Fisher from Kamy Saeedi Law. Photo: Albert McKnight

Mr Aulich had also wanted to examine the conduct of the undercover officer, in part wanting to question the officer about what he understood to be the scope of the MCO, as well as what his understanding was of “entrapment”.

The prosecution had argued some of the defendants’ applications were attempts to “go behind” the MCO while Magistrate Crompton cited a previous decision from the case that had stated it was not possible for the defendants to attack the grounds of the operation.

The validity of the operation could be challenged at trial, this previous decision had found.

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After all of the applications were dismissed, the managing partner at Aulich, Peter Woodhouse, asked for time to consider the magistrate’s decision as well as what applications may flow from it.

The matter was adjourned to 6 February for a mention. Bail was continued.

When the applications were argued in court late last year, Mr Aulich’s barrister had claimed the aim of the sting was to use $100,000 to create an offence and implicate his client in it, which was “the clearest and most profound instance of entrapment imaginable”.

Mr Aulich and Mr Papandrea have both been charged with conspiracy, while the former has also been charged with recruiting people to engage in criminal activity in the alternative and has pleaded not guilty.

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